Lymph node culture

Lymph node culture is a laboratory test done on a sample from a lymph node to identify germs that cause infection.

A sample is needed from a lymph node. The sample may be taken using a needle to draw fluid (aspiration) from the lymph node or during a lymph node biopsy.

The sample is sent to a laboratory. There, it is placed in a special dish and watched to see if bacteria, fungi, or viruses grow. This process is called a culture. Sometimes, special stains are also used to identify specific cells or microorganisms before culture results are available.

If needle aspiration does not provide a good enough sample, the entire lymph node may be removed and sent for culture and other testing.

Your health care provider will instruct you on how to prepare for the lymph node sampling.

When local anesthetic is injected, you will feel a prick and a mild stinging sensation. The site will likely be sore for a few days after the test.

Your doctor may order this test if you have swollen glands and infection is suspected.

A normal result means there was no growth of microorganisms on the lab dish.

Normal value ranges may vary slightly among different laboratories. Talk to your doctor about the meaning of your specific test results.

Abnormal results are a sign of a bacterial, fungal, or viral infection.

Lymph node culture Risks

Risks include:

  • Bleeding
  • Infection (in rare cases, the wound may get infected and you may need to take antibiotics)
  • Nerve injury if the biopsy is done on a lymph node close to nerves (the numbness usually goes away in a few months)

References

Armitage JO. Approach to the patient with lymphadenopathy and splenomegaly. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 171.

Hall GS, Woods GL. Medical bacteriology. In: McPherson RA, Pincus MR, eds. Henry's Clinical Diagnosis and Management by Laboratory Methods. 22nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 57.

Pasternik MS, Swartz MN. Lymphadenitis and lymphangitis. In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2009:chap 92.

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Review Date: 11/20/2013
Reviewed By: Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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